Dressed for Distress

By Givhan, Robin | Newsweek, June 27, 2011 | Go to article overview

Dressed for Distress


Givhan, Robin, Newsweek


Byline: Robin Givhan

Like other women before her, huma abedin is quiet about her husband's scandals--but says much with her wardrobe.

As the tawdry Twitter saga of Anthony Weiner rolls past pathology to resignation, the prying public--goaded by the media--has been desperate to see the wife. Just how angry, humiliated, and/or sad is Huma Abedin? No one really expects her to confide in a bunch of strangers--at least not now. History, however, shows that in the end, confession and catharsis always come. Following a well-edited statement, expect the lengthy profile, lucrative book contract, or hourlong televised bacchanal. But no matter when the aggrieved political spouse talks, it's not the words that people parse for meaning. It's the clothes.

The packaging puts a fine point on the rehearsed lines, the square-jawed declaration about moving on, and the useless plea for privacy. Clothes serve as armor, and in these circumstances their protective powers are put to the greatest test.

The political wife defines herself within a uniquely confining space. Her marriage is essential to campaign strategy. Even if family values aren't part of the politician's stump speech, they remain part of politics. She might be wise and accomplished, but keeping up appearances still lands on her to-do list.

Vogue is a favorite pit stop for many an injured partner. Fashion's big book offers a sympathetic ear. And the wife is certain to look glorious. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton--Abedin's boss-- appeared on Vogue's cover in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, exuding a regal demeanor in a crimson Oscar de la Renta gown. And after South Carolina's former governor Mark Sanford came clean about his soul-mate-of-a-mistress, his spouse, Jenny, was photographed looking effortlessly elegant in a white tunic and sandals.

These women showed no hint of a postscandal crisis of confidence: no excessive Botox, budget-busting jewels, or confrontational stilettos. These weren't "Screw you, buddy!" photographs. Because isn't trussed-up anger just as sad a sight as dowdy victimhood? …

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